GM mistakes

November 2016
Photo Creative Commons
Seemingly intent on promoting the future of GM crops in Europe, the European Commission (EC) is trying to extend the cultivation of GM maize.

In November, the Commission will vote on proposals to authorise three GM crops: DuPont-Pioneer's Bt insecticidal maize 1507 for the second time (it was dropped in 2014 due to massive opposition), Sygenta's Bt insecticidal maize Bt11, and Monsanto's Bt insecticidal maize MON810 which is already grown in five European countries and now requires re-authorisation.

The EC is, it seems, taking care not to show favouritism to one biotech company and avoid giving objectors a single company or crop to focus on. However, does the choice of GM crops it's putting forward for approval actually make sense?

None of the three crops are of direct interest to their developers: they're outdated. The GM du jour is multi-gene stacked varieties. Two of the crops (1507 and Bt11) are also genetically transformed to tolerate glufosinate herbicide. This weedkiller is classified as a reproductive toxin and its use in Europe is restricted.

It's difficult to see why farmers should find these crops relevant to them. Very likely the real intention behind these authorisations is purely to prise open the door for further GM crops.

As in all previous EC authorisation plans, the European Parliament has rejected them.

At the same time, the Commission is busy pushing through the approval of 11 stacked-trait GM maize varieties for food and feed use. Added to the 17 approved in 2015, this will bring the total number of GM crops potentially in your food chain to 86. This is a fine mix of novel proteins we could be exposed to.

The final decision will depend on the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) opinion. This body includes an allergy specialist who has recently raised concerns about the potential for untested allergenic interactions in stacked-trait GM crops [1]. Additional concerns are being raised about the increasing use of possibly allergenic and possibly interacting GMO 2.0 ingredients in our food, toiletries and detergents [2].

Legitimate questions can be raised on whether the novel DNA in our food chain is, in fact, what was claimed by the biotech companies and what was assessed for safety. In October last year, Swiss biotech company, Syngenta, informed the EC of updated information of the DNA constructs in two of its commercialised traits. One of these concerned the mis-identification of a single building block in a non-protein-producing section attached to a Bt insecticide gene in MIR 604 maize. The second concerned an undisclosed mis-identification in GA21 glyphosate-tolerant maize.

Both these improperly characterised GM maize traits have been in our food chain, individually, stacked together, and stacked with other novel genes, for several years. They're also among the 11 new GM maize varieties up for EC approval.

The errors are deemed not significant enough to alter the assessment of the two traits, and Syngenta has announced they have no implications for human and animal health.

Tests provided to Member States for use in the detection and control of GM plants are not based on these wrongly-reported sections of DNA.


The mishmash of artificial gene products pouring into our food-chain with limited individual safety testing and no testing of the combinations is a concern for our health and for future generations.

To repeat a warning given recently by the EFSA allergy specialist:

"Allergenic reactions in general and consequently food allergy are dramatically increasing in the EU (and worldwide) and have become a most important public health issue".

Any change in DNA, no matter how small, can alter the proteins expressed by connected DNA. Non-protein-producing sequences of DNA have wide and interacting functions in guiding the expression of genes. The assumptions of safety of these mis-identified sequences do not seem warranted.

Since identification methods made available to detect these crops have by-passed the mistakes, how many other 'updates' of the information provided to regulators remain to be notified? It could be tens of thousands. How many non-significant errors in a strand of artificial DNA does it take to make them 'significant'? And, since DNA evolves, how many changes in the original artificial constructs are turning up undetected in our food chain?

It's time to ask whether anyone (the biotech industry, scientists, or regulators) actually know what DNA has been inserted into any GM crop?


[1] STACKED GM ALLERGIES - November 2016
[2] KEEP IT REAL - November 2016

  • St├ęphan Foucart, Flaws in the registration of six GM maize in Europe, Le Monde 14.10.15
  • EU Commission wants to authorize three GM maize varieties for cultivation, GM Watch 24.09.16 
  • Beata Stur, MEPs oppose EU Commission plans to authorise five GMOs,, 7.10

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